Pregnancy Exercise: Experts Weigh in on Dos and Don’ts

exercise during pregnancy
Image adapted via iStock

During my first pregnancy, I was terrified to do any type of exercise. I wanted to run. I had been running for years. The doctor gave me the OK to run, but visions of a jostled baby scared me, and so I did little more than walk a few blocks here and there. I gained quite a bit of weight and had a tough time taking it off once I delivered.

My second pregnancy, though, went a bit differently. I ran until just a few weeks before delivery. I ran three days a week, three miles at a time, until I got too big and the baby pressed down on my bladder, leaving me to believe my water had broken on one particular jaunt. (The friendly staff at the local ER assured me, after an ultrasound, that it wasn't amniotic fluid I'd leaked but — much to my embarrassment — another bodily fluid.) I did so to keep my sanity and, I hoped, to keep in shape so that after baby came, I had more energy and could drop the added weight faster. (I did on both counts.)

Still, I always wondered how safe exercise was during pregnancy, what was OK to do, and what should be avoided during that time. So I turned to a few experts with questions about the safety of fitness during pregnancy and to find out their thoughts about exercising with baby on board.  

1. Crunches and ab work – Yea and Nay. Dr. Katherine Bolt, OB/GYN with Texas Children's Pavilion for Women in Houston, Texas, told me, “It is OK to continue a normal abdominal exercise routine in the first trimester,” but added that, as the uterus grows, it will become difficult and uncomfortable — if not impossible — to bend around the belly. “I generally recommend avoiding a direct abdominal workouts and encourage core workouts like Pilates or yoga”

2. Long distance or endurance training – Depends. Some of my fanatical friends (me NOT included!) wanted to continue long distance running and/or cycling while pregnant. (I just wanted to take naps!) Dr. Bolt said that the important thing is to continue the routines you practiced regularly prior to pregnancy instead of adding on an endurance event after you are eating for two. She recommends self-pacing and says most of those who exercise while pregnant, endurance athletes included, will voluntarily reduce the intensity of exercise routines as the pregnancy progresses. 

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However, Bolt DOES recommend heart rate monitoring for those who insist on logging longer miles while pregnant. During exercise sessions, blood is shunted away from the pregnant uterus, she said, and then sent to active muscles. When the heart rate is over 140 beats per minute, the muscles are consuming the majority of oxygen in your blood. Maintaining this heart rate (over 140) temporarily may not be problematic, but doing it for a long period of time could decrease the important blood supply needed for your growing baby.

3. Weight lifting training – Nay. While you may not want to lose those toned arms during pregnancy, lifting heavy weights could be problematic. Instead, said Dr. Fahimeh Sasan, Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Science at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai,  it is “better to do resistance training with 1-2 pound weights with multiple repetitions.” This won't put added strain on your body, all while allowing you to keep those biceps in shape, which you will need when lifting a baby!


4. High impact sports – Nay. Things like kickboxing, punching bags, and boxing, which can potentially cause trauma, are best avoided during pregnancy, said Dr. Sasan. Instead, try things like swimming, which is a no-impact form of cardiovascular exercise that's easy on the joints, walking (outside or on the treadmill), and running. Look for prenatal yoga and prenatal Pilates classes as well.

Above all, keep in mind the ultimate goal for exercising during pregnancy. It's likely not to:

  • Look good in a bikini
  • Maintain a tight stomach, or
  • Lose some weight.

Instead, it's to make pregnancy and childbirth easier, keep your body at a healthy weight during the pregnancy, and bounce back faster once your bundle of joy has arrived.

Dr. Sasan said it best: “Exercise is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle.” This is paramount during pregnancy, he added, so choose fitness programs that keep you moving without draining your energy bank. 

{ MORE: What To Do When You Just Can't Set Your Crying Baby Down }

How about you? Are you (or were you) exercising during pregnancy? If so, what have you kept up and what have you kicked to the curb? And what is the reason you've continued to exercise during these nine months?

What do you think?

Pregnancy Exercise: Experts Weigh in on Dos and Don’ts

Kathy Murdock works as a full time writer and web designer. Recently planted in the middle of the deep south from the busy streets of Los Angeles, when she's not coding Wordpress websites or writing about women in business and thrifty motherhood, Kathy spends time photographing alligators, playing with her family, and running. ... More

Tell us what you think!


  1. rhiannon says:

    Im 23 weeks and still managing to run and do yoga, which Im please with! I think it might be this support top and trousers from a company called Fittamamma. They are amazing! I feel so supported around my bump and they dont ride up either, always a bonus i was worried about flashing the people in my yoga class lol!
    I highly recommend them!

  2. MariBautista says:

    I did a LOT of walking because of my job as a greeter at a car dealership and I was still taking class at the local college so parking/walking across campus (not a choice) helped me push my baby out in only three tries after only being in labor for 3 and half hours. And the best part is I got back to my pre-pregnancy weight after 2 weeks, which was a very pleasant surprise. So even if its not running or yoga (which I love to do now) it helped.

  3. Aiden says:

    Need to start exercising. Got pain in my butt and hip

  4. Klmckee2012 says:

    I didn’t know you could do so much while being pregnant.

  5. Tina says:

    I have been working out at the gym still since I have a membership, but it hasn’t been as often. To be honest it has been hard for me to transition my workouts to be safe for the baby. I’m used to pushing myself and now I feel so limited to what I can do. I’m only 16 weeks (so I don’t really look the most pregnant) therefore I feel kind of stupid at the gym right now since I know it’s not to my full potential.

  6. KaelinRae says:

    I honestly just do a lot of walking. I get some light lifting in because I’m a cashier at a grocery store, but I do a lot of walking outside of work. Not only is it good exercise, but it also helps me get my mind of things.

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